Who hasn’t struggled with walk-to-canter transitions sometime in his or her riding life? While our earliest engagements with walk-to-faster-FASTER-FASTER trots can be owed to short legs, lack of riding experience, and smart ponies, later on it is generally a fault (or two) in our aiding or position, and poor preparation of the horse for what’s necessary: activity of his hind end and the “lift” he needs to get his legs and body in order so the desired transition is actually biomechanically possible.
Here’s one exercise from CREATIVE DRESSAGE SCHOOLING, the new book by FN-licensed trainer and instructor Julia Kohl, that helps us, and our horses, get organized and fit for seamless walk-to-canter transitions.
LEG-YIELD CENTERLINE TO TRACK AND CANTER
Where You Go
Ride in walk, tracking right, onto the short side, and turn up the centerline. Leg-yield your horse off the right leg toward the track. (Note: The leg-yield should begin in the first third of the centerline.) Upon reaching the track, ride a transition to right lead canter.
Why You Do It
This exercise helps prepare the horse for the transition from walk to canter. The horse is suppled on the inside (right) rein, the inside flexion improves, and the horse is “sent into” the outside (left) rein making it possible for the rider to soften the inside rein in the moment of the canter transition. This allows the horse’s inside hind leg to reach forward, well under the horse’s body, with good activity in the transition. (Just to clarify: The outside hind is the first leg to strike off in the canter depart.)
1 Ride at the walk, tracking right, and when you come onto the short side of the arena, turn up the centerline at A or C.
2 Ride a few steps straight on the centerline before beginning to leg-yield to the left—off your right leg. If you leg-yield directly out of the turn, the horse may “fall through” his outside (left) shoulder.
3 Increase the weight on your right (inside) seat bone, along with the use of your forward-and-sideways driving right leg to send your horse forward and to the left. Give and take on the right rein to flex your horse to the right.
4 When necessary, use your left rein and left “guarding” leg to keep your horse’s left shoulder and haunches from falling too much to the left. As a reminder, your horse’s body should remain nearly parallel to the track as he moves, with this forehand leading just slightly.
5 When you reach the track on the long side of the arena, end the leg-yield. Use your left (outside) leg to prevent the horse from stepping further sideways. Return your right (inside) leg to the girth and continue to drive the horse into the outside rein, maintaining a minimal inside flexion. Your right seat bone should remain more heavily weighted than the left, but it now “swings” in a forward direction rather than forward-and-sideways. Even when you are riding in an arena with a wall or fence that prevents the horse from continuing the leg-yield, it is important to actively use the aids to end the leg-yield in order to prepare for the canter transition that comes next in this exercise. These aids should be ideally applied in one step while also giving a half-halt.
6 Become passive for a brief moment with the driving aids, then ask the horse to canter by pushing your right (inside) seat bone forward, sliding your left (outside) leg back, and giving on the right (inside) rein concurrently. It is important that you do not lose focus after completing the leg-yield (Step 5), because then the “positive tension” that the horse has built up as he moved from the centerline to the track will go to waste.
7 Send your horse forward in the canter by driving with your right leg, not your left (inside leg, not outside). Overuse of the outside leg in canter sends the horse’s haunches to the inside. If there is a mirror in the corner on the short side of the arena, it is easy to check if your horse’s haunches have fallen in as you canter down the track toward it.
8 Repeat this exercise a few times in each direction.
For 55, detailed, meaningful exercises to make schooling your horse interesting, fun, and productive for you both, check out CREATIVE DRESSAGE SCHOOLING by Julia Kohl, available now from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.